Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Outer and the Off Limits

Cancel culture: In these polarised times, and in light of recent events, are there any topics or viewpoints which you would not write about or which you think are off limits?

Brenda here.

So if I list topics or viewpoints that I would not write about, am I in fact writing about them?!  Hmmmm. Wish I studied philosophy when I had the chance.

This is actually a very relevant question and one worth pondering. During my writing career, I haven't steered away from any issues that crop up through the telling of a story. I've dealt with racism, forced marriage, teenage prostitution, misogyny, and other societal issues. After all, murder and crime happen for all kinds of reasons, always to do with relationships and often power imbalances.

I lean towards the side of never say never when it comes to what I write, however, I would not use my writing to promote or glorify injustice, racism or prejudice. I might have characters who have some nasty traits, but they are not the heroes or protagonists of my stories. It's actually kind of rewarding when readers tell me they want a certain character to get their comeuppance for bad behaviour -- to dislike a character enough to write to me about how much they dislike them -- kind of means I nailed it! One cop in particular named Woodhouse in the Stonechild books garnered a lot of negative reader wishes. He does redeem himself somewhat in the second-last book, and being able to shift perspectives about him was also satisfying. 

Even in this time of polarized viewpoints and political shenanigans, I try to have compassion for people who do not believe what I believe. Everyone has a different life experience, pressures,  influences... I think it's important not to demonize someone for their beliefs; it's the ones in power who lie and manipulate for their own ends who get me hot under the collar. 

In my last few books, I've had ultra rightwing characters who don't show very well on the pages, mainly because of their prejudices and self-righteous nastiness. Crime fiction seems to be a good vehicle for shining a light on issues without preaching --  the characters can express viewpoints that I as the author do not hold, but I can tell the story in a way to make these traits reprehensible or have consequences.

So, back to this week's question, are there topics I will not write about? I'm not convinced there are, although I will say that you can rest assured that I will not kill the dog or let the evil-doers get off scot-free.


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Terry said...

Brenda, you stole my line, "never say never," but I'm keeping it. It sums up things nicely.

Brenda Chapman said...

Great minds agree, Terry - looking forward to your post tomorrow.

Susan C Shea said...

I agree that it's hard to be certain we won't feel we have to deal with a difficult, sensitive, or ugly theme in our work. I have a list of exactly one item I can promise I will nwver, ever include in my books, but everything else has to be left as a possibity, however distant. You may not be a philosopher but you have a wonderful view of all this.

Brenda Chapman said...

thanks Susan

Dietrich Kalteis said...

That's an excellent point, Brenda: the characters need to express viewpoints that the author doesn't necessarily share. And if we start being too careful and not allowing the characters to express themselves then we will likely water the whole story down.

Brenda Chapman said...

Agreed, Dietrich. I think readers can confuse character viewpoints with the author's, but this shouldn't deter us from telling the story and creating imperfect characters with different opinions and life experiences.